And he said to them, When you pray, say, Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done…
He who is "our Father:" is also a King. This is a prayer which even children may offer. This is a matter with which even children have to do. In the war that not long since was raging on the continent of Europe, the interest and the work were not confined to those who were grown up. Not only in the universities and among the students, but in the schools, and among the young people generally, there was not only enthusiasm, but effort. They all felt that they could do, and should be doing, something. The war-spirit seemed to have made its way into the very infant schools. The very infants were quite becoming little soldiers. "What could such children know about these things?" you ask. Perhaps the best answer I can give, is to read to you an extract which I cut out of a newspaper at the time: "The energy, concord, and practical good sense shown by the Genoese ladies, in their labour of charity and patriotism, were marvellous. The first instalment of supplies for the wounded had been despatched on the 20th ult., under the superintendence of surgeons and their dressers. The chests contained bandages, compressers, lint, and shirts. They were forwarded to the central depot at Milan, and not a day too soon. Every class has vied in these offerings. Even the children of the infant schools had given up their money allowance for fruit, and for some weeks had eaten dry bread at their noonday meal, and, with the money thus saved, had bought materials for their contributions." Shall the names of Italy's king and captains be household words among the people? Shall the children of Italy be familiar with the names of Garibaldi, and Victor Immanuel, and La Marmots, and Cialdini, and rise into enthusiasm at the very mention of them? Shall they be interested in the movements of their armies, and talk among themselves of winning Venetia and Rome to the Italian crown, and shall our boys and girls take no interest in the coming of that kingdom of righteousness and peace, of which our text speaks? We do not want fighting of that kind, we want praying. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
I. THE PRAYER: "Thy kingdom come!" What is implied in it?
1. The destroying of the kingdom of Satan. Satan, too, is a king — a mighty king — the head of a kingdom, with wide-spread dominion, and many subjects. I have spoken of Italy. Not long since, that country was divided into a number of petty kingdoms and states. In some of these the people were groaning under the yoke of their oppressors. Their prisons were loathsome and filthy dungeons, filled with miserable prisoners, who were there for what, in this country, would not have been accounted crime at all. For having a Bible or tract in their possession, for getting it out of its hiding-place at dead of night, and gathering a few neighbours together to hear it read, for telling about Jesus and the way of salvation, they were imprisoned and banished. Don't you think, when they heard the tidings of Garibaldi's wonderful exploits, and of what he and his band of brave red jackets were bent upon doing for the whole country, as they listened to the distant bugle sound, and then to the crack of musketry closer at hand, as they heard it coming nearer and nearer — oh, don't you think they would devoutly pray, "Thy kingdom come," as they thought of the approach of one who would give them civil and religious liberty, who would break off the fetters from the prisoner and open the prison doors, and bring the reign of terror to an end? During the Indian Mutiny, when our countrymen were hemmed in on all sides by bloodthirsty rebels, who had been guilty of the most dreadful atrocities, and were waiting, like beasts of prey, ready to rush in whenever an opening was made, and subject their victims to what was worse than death — how they longed for the coming of the British soldiers, to break the power of the enemy, and bring to a speedy close his brief but dreadful supremacy! Had the mutineers got their will, we can hardly think what might have been — how women and little children would have been mercilessly tortured and slain, and brave men would have died a lingering and shameful death. Oh, how their hearts yearned for the quiet and safety of their far-off home; and as they went back, in thought, to the land of their birth, how earnestly they sighed, "Thy kingdom come!" And when at last there was the sound of distant bagpipes, telling that Sir Colin Campbell and his brave Highlanders were coming to the rescue, and their colours at length appeared flying in the wind, and the boom of cannon fell upon the ear, who shall ever tell how welcome it was, sad how they wept for joy, as the restoration of British rule saved them from the hands of cruel foes? This petition asks the destroying of Satan's power(1) in ourselves. We have more to do with this than many of us fancy.
(2) It asks the destroying of Satan's power in others. Drunkenness, profanity, carelessness, and crime, at home. It bears upon all these.
(3) Slavery and oppression. This evil is not now what it was once. But in many parts of the world it still exists.
(4) War. Is it not strange that men should take such delight in murdering each other?
(5) Error and superstition. I have chiefly in view here, the gigantic systems of Popery and Mahometanism, which have cast their dark shadow over many beautiful lands — in Europe, Asia, South America, and other parts of the world.
(6) Judaism -the religion of the Jew. There are thousands upon thousands of Jews, scattered all over the world, whose bitter hatred to the Lord Jesus is something wonderful, shared in, as it is, by the very children.
(8) Division among the professed friends of Christ. "By this," said Jesus, "shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye love one another." Now I have come to you to-day as a sort of recruiting-sergeant. Don't be alarmed. I have no wish to entrap you, and though I would fain have you to enlist under the banner of my King, I cannot, though I would, slip His shilling into your hand, and fasten the badge of the recruit to your bonnet, so that you should wake up as out of a sleep, and all of a sudden find yourselves soldiers. I only wish I had the power and the happiness to enlist you all. When settlers take possession of a new country, there are two things to be done. They must first clear the ground of what is on it, felling the great trees, as in the backwoods of America, or removing the brushwood and. weeds that have got possession of the soil. But that is not enough. Stopping there, things would soon be again where they were. The old things have passed away, but the new things have not yet come in. They must cultivate the ground, sowing and planting, and prevent the springing up again of what is evil or useless by growing what is useful and good. When the ground is merely cleared, the work is but half done. If you were getting a property into your hands, with a house on it that was ugly to look at, and dangerous to live in, a ruin, it would not be enough that you took down the old house, and cleared away the rubbish. That would be necessary, indeed, but it would merely be a step in the right direction — a means towards an end. The old house once away, a new one would have to be set up in its place. You would have forthwith to begin to build, strongly and beautifully, and the perfection of the thing would be, to have, instead of the ruin, not a mere vacant site, but a comfortable and elegant dwelling. Now all this is just what must be in the other case. Satan's kingdom may be so far destroyed, but if the kingdom of God is not set up in its stead, Satan will come back again, and get firmer possession than ever. Just such a picture we have in Matthew (Matthew 12:43-45), drawn by the hand of Jesus Himself.Let us see, then, what is meant by the advancing of the kingdom of grace.
(1) The coming of Christ as King into our own hearts. Naturally we have rebel hearts, acknowledging Satan the usurper as king. Why not lay aside the prayer, as not needing it any longer? Because we need it still. Is not Ireland a part of Great Britain? Does it not belong to the British crown? Is not Victoria queen there as well as here? You say, "Yes; of course." Then why is regiment after regiment being sent across the Channel — cavalry, and infantry, and artillery, scattered all over the land? Because there are rebels in the country, who need to be overawed, conquered, and, if it may be, changed into loyal subjects. Now, Ireland at present, loyal as a whole, but with Fenians here and there, in town and country, not coming out openly and giving battle, but meeting in secret, having their drill at night, working in the dark, and every now and then being discovered and apprehended, is just like a Christian child or man. He is a subject of Christ, right at bottom, sound-hearted, loyal. But there are still traitors within — rebels — the remains of the old nature — evil tempers, evil habits, evil dispositions, evil tendencies, not indeed what once they were — unchecked, unresisted — but not rooted out, not dead yet. And so there is a constant fight kept up; and when you think they are fairly conquered, and you have seen the last of them, up they start, all of a sudden, and show their heads again — so that at times it is almost like a struggle for life.
(2) The coming of Christ as King into the hearts of others. I can fancy one of you, with all the rest of your family, spending an hour on the ice, at some neighbouring loch. When you are in the middle of the loch, suddenly there is a creak, and in half a minute you are all in the water, struggling for life. The alarm is given. Ropes, and poles, and boats, and life-preservers, are all in requisition; but the ice is rotten, and, once it is broken, no one can get near. At length, with great difficulty, you are rescued, and words cannot tell how glad and thankful you are. But why don't you hurry home, and get off your wet clothes, and beside a blazing fire, or in a comfortable bed, get all right again? Why do you linger on the bank, the water dripping off yon, half dead with cold? why look so wistfully, and seem as if you would rush back again — ay, would, if they did not prevent you by force? I think I hear you saying, "Don't you see my father, my mother, my sister, seizing the slippery surface only to lose hold of it again, or able only to stretch out the hands, or, benumbed and exhausted, giving in and going down?" I think I hear your piercing cry, "O my father, my father! — save him! What would my own life be to me without him? God save my beloved father!" Anything else than that, you would think strange indeed. The truth is, you cannot be rightly saved yourself, without having the desire, and sending up the prayer, and making the effort, that those you love may be saved as well. If you have no care about their salvation, you have reason to be in doubt about your own. In like manner, when you get anything good, if you are at all right-hearted, you have a desire that others should share it with you. If you are looking at a beautiful picture, the wish at once starts up that some friend were there to see it; and if you found him standing beside you, it would double your own enjoyment. If I were to find you ill-protected from the cold, on one of these winter days, going bare-footed, or with your hands all frost-bitten, or with no warm covering to wrap about you, and were to give you a pair of shoes and stockings or of warm gloves or a comfortable cloak or overcoat — if you were the only one that got this help, and the rest of your family were left starving as before — do you think you could take the things, or wear them, with any measure of comfort? When you saw your little brother's cold hands or feet or shivering body, could you help taking off what I had given you, and, at least, sharing the use of them with him? and would not your joy be increased a hundredfold, if I gave the same gift to all, and made all alike?
3. This petition implies the hastening of the kingdom of glory. We come now to consider —
II. OUR DUTY in connection with it.
1. To pray. Many of us say this prayer who never pray it. Many repeat the words who have no desire for the thing. At the last great exhibition in London, there was one object that excited special interest. It was a speaking-machine, so contrived as to give utterance to certain sounds, like those of a human voice. Many of our prayers are as worthless as if they were uttered by such a machine, because they are not the prayers of the heart. Why, just suppose that the children of any town or district were to combine to get something they wanted very much from their parents or teachers, and were with one voice to ask it, would it not be a very difficult thing to refuse the request? Would they not be almost sure to carry their point? One great complaint just now, throughout the Churches, is the want of missionaries. Men cannot be got to go and tell the heathen the story of redeeming love, and preach among them the unsearchable riches of Christ. Would it not be a sad thing, if, on a harvest day, when the fields are covered with waving corn, all ready to be cut down, no one could be got to reap it, so that the grain began to fall out of the ear, or to rot upon its stalk? That is just a picture of the heathen world now. What would help to get them? One thing, I know, would help wonderfully — the prayers of our children. Another complaint in many quarters is, the want of blessing where the missionaries are. The hearts of some of them are failing, because there seems to be so little fruit of all their labours. They need — they ask your help. I saw lately, the picture of a party of children who had gone a bird-nesting. The nest was on the face of a cliff. One of the boys had a rope tied firmly round his waist, and was let gently down. In one sense he did the work; but did not everything depend on the others holding the rope? And when, having robbed the nest, he was attacked by the mother bird, I can fancy he was not so much afraid of that as of their letting him go; so that I think I hear his cries to those above, on whom all depended, "Hold the rope! Hold the rope!" One of the first missionaries who left this country to unfurl the gospel standard in India, said he would only consent to go down into the mine, on condition that his friends, whom he left behind, should thus "hold the rope." That is what they want and expect you to do now. They have gone instead of you; and from all lands, the missionaries' cry, to the children at home, amid all their dangers and discouragements, is, "Hold the rope! Hold the rope!" The holding of the rope is the offering of earnest believing prayer.
2. To work. It is not enough to pray. We must work as well as pray. The two should always go together — praying and working. Perhaps you say, "What can the like of us do? We cannot preach to people; we cannot go out as missionaries; we don't see that we can be of any use — that we can do anything at all ill this matter." Well, you can do many things else. Many of you have a wonderful amount of energy. I have seen many of you at your games, and have watched you with not a little interest and pleasure as you made such tremendous efforts to come off first in the contest. Young people, who can master such difficult lessons at school, who can acquire a knowledge of Latin and Greek, and French and German; who are so well versed in geography, and arithmetic, and mathematics; who carry off prizes, and get no end of praise for your abilities and good qualities, you can surely do something for Christ. There is much of children's work that is lost. There is, perhaps, good got from it as regards the promoting of the general health of the body, but very little as regards the direct result. There are some things which a child cannot do so well as a man. There are some kinds of work which he cannot do at all — some burdens which he cannot carry. But there are things which he can do every whir as well — some better. A little body can get in at some openings where a big one cannot. A little hand can do some things which a big one cannot. In our large factories, children can go where old people cannot, and can do what others cannot. So in field labour. Work for Christ is often compared to the sowing of seed. Now, sometimes a young hand can drop a seed where an older one cannot. We are told of a Scotchman in another land, that missing the thistle of his native country, and longing to see it as at home, he procured a supply of seed, and when travelling to and fro, scattered it from his carriage window wherever he went. Dropping it here and there, it was not long ere the Scotch thistle bristled all over that region. Now, a child's hand can do that, and sow better seed than the Scotch thistle. It can sow the incorruptible seed of the Word in human hearts. Let me give you some illustrations. There is one who is described as "neither believing in heaven nor hell, God nor devil." There is no way of getting at him. Ministers and others have tried in vain to reach him. "He said if any parson dared to enter his room, he would smash his brains out with the poker." He is an infidel, and he is ill how shall he be got at? A little girl repeats to him a hymn she has learned at the Sabbath-school, and as she goes on, he covers his face and weeps. The door is thus opened, and the man's heart reached, and when, a while after, he dies, among the last words he utters are three lines of that child's hymn, which he has learned to make his own: —
"See smiling patience smooths my brow,
See the kind angels waiting now,
To waft my soul on high";
and his last wish is to have a sermon preached from the text "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."
3. To give. It does not matter though it is little you have to give, Children should be early accustomed to give to the cause of Christ, and to give what is their own. Every family should be a little missionary society — praying, working, giving. "Sir," said a working man to Mr. Knill, of St. Petersburg, "I went last night to the missionary meeting, and I heard you speak of the love of Christ, and of the responsibility of Christ's people to seek the salvation of the heathen. I have professed many years to be a Christian, but I have never yet given anything to the Christian cause. I have come now to say that, by good health and constant work, I have saved up £10; and I have brought it, begging your acceptance of it, as my first contribution to the missionary society." Don't make a show of giving, any more than of working. Be like a youth in a small country town in Scotland, who afterwards became a good and useful man. His ambition was to give a piece of gold to the cause of Christ; and, when at last he had a half-sovereign, and the day had come when he was to put it into the plate at the church door, the attention of the two eiders at the door was attracted by the careful way in which the lad put down his penny. On lifting it, there, between two pennies, lay the yellow coin!
(J. H. Wilson, M. A .)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.